My sister and I walk along an ancient bauer’s* road to Steinwenden, the village where my military family lives in Germany. Visoring my eyes with my hand, I look ahead at the winding dirt lane cutting neatly between rye fields. Our little dachshund, Heidi, is straining at her leash, her nose quivering with anticipation of small prey in the ditches that line the road.
“You know Mom’s sending us to spend two weeks with Oma** and Opa*** in Bonn this summer,” my sister remarks casually.
“I heard her…and I’m NOT going.” The hot sun makes the back of my neck itch where my hair stretches tight against my head.
“What d’you mean, ‘ you’re not going’? You little dope, you can’t decide what you’re gonna do. You’re twelve.”
I shake my head, my ponytail swinging into my eyes. “I don’t care if I am twelve…I don’t want to go stay with that awful old man…he’s NOT my Opa.” My mom’s German mother just married again last year, and I can’t stand her new husband.
“He’s Oma’s husband, so that means he’s our Opa, Nit-Wit.” Sheryl digs the toes of her sandals into the soft dirt with each step. Little clouds of dust puffs float behind in her wake.
I seal my lips against the angry retort that is bursting to spill out. I imagine porcine features: the tiny beady eyes, the stubbly whiskered and flabby cheeks, and the pink skin of Oma’s husband, and my stomach flips. His hugs and slobbery kisses make my skin crawl.
“He’s a walking Porky Pig and he’s filthy disgusting!” I suddenly blurt out.
Sheryl stops short and regards me in surprise. Her eyes flick over my face, searching for an answer to my outburst.
“What’s the matter with you?” she asks quietly.
“Nothin’.” I hang my head. I can’t tell her anything he said to me the last time we were there, but I do know this: he’s not going to stop at words the next time.
“Lizzie, I know you don’t like him, but you should tell me why…I won’t tell Mom; I promise.”
I examine her earnest face and decide I can trust her-for once.
“He said nasty things to me the last time we were there. Things about…well…you know…things.
I look into her blue eyes and hope she can read my mind. Her eyes widen and then she purses her lips and squints. Usually when she looks at me like that, I duck.
“Never mind. I’ll take care of >him.” Her determined words don’t calm my fears. She’s fifteen, but she’s still just a kid, so what can SHE do?
I pull Heidi out of a ditch and we walk on. Nothing else is said, but I feel a different kind of warmth in my heart as I glance at Sheryl, stalking determinedly beside me towards home.
Out of nowhere, a huge German shepherd intercepts Heidi, fiercely gnawing her head, rump, and tail while she tries to scurry away from him. Heidi is barking and growling, the big dog is snarling and snapping, and I’m trying to lift my pup above the reach of the huge dog’s teeth.
“Stop! Stop! You dumb dog…get away!” but the shepherd doesn’t lessen his attack. His saliva wets my cheek, and I have a sudden fear that he will bite me as well as Heidi.
“Halt! Halt! Halt!” I hear above the noise of the fighting animals. The German shepherd’s ears twitch backward toward Sheryl’s stern voice. He turns his head and stares at my sister. She walks toward him, commanding him, in German, to leave off the attack. Suddenly, he drops his head, his tail between his legs, and slumps to the ground.
I sigh and scoop Heidi to my chest, examining her glossy coat for injuries. A farmer, leash dangling in his hands, and out of breath from the chase, runs to us and coaxes his dog away, apologizing in German for his pet’s “schlectes*” behavior.
Sheryl reaches out to stroke Heidi’s soft head. “He didn’t know English, Lizzie. You were shouting at him in English.”
“Oh.” My face flames at the realization. She shrugs as she reaches out to smooth my messy bangs. I lift my head and look at Sheryl’s calm face. She looks older, somehow.
“Don’t worry, Lizzie. I’ll find a way to tell Mom we don’t want to go to Bonn this summer.”
I place Heidi down on the dusty road, and we meander home in the sunshine.
(* bauer - farmer ** Oma - Grandma ***Opa - Grandpa)
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